Citizen Havel premieres at Berlin Film Festival

Photo: CTK

Citizen Havel – a fly-on-the-wall documentary following former head of state Václav Havel through two presidential terms - has been a big success amongst Czech cinemagoers since its release two weeks ago. But how will foreign audiences react to the film? Last night, Citizen Havel was premiered to an international audience at the Berlin Film Festival. Czech journalist Tereza Brdečková was there, she described the atmosphere at the event:

“As you know, this Občan Havel or Citizen Havel is being presented in the Berlinale not in the official competition, but in a special section called Forum. Forum is a festival of young cinema, which is a little bit funny when you think about the age of the directors, and of ex-president Havel, but it is meant more to be a presentation of non-conformist films.

“This was the premiere for an international audience with English subtitles, which means that we can’t really talk about the reaction of a German audience. I think that there was a really big interest in the film because the cinema was full half an hour before the film started. And interestingly, the average age of the viewers was somewhat higher at this film than it normally is at other Forum film screenings.”

And how did a foreign audience react to the film, because it has had quite a deal of success already in the Czech Republic? Was this foreign audience, for example, laughing at the same things that Czech audiences had?

“The reaction was cooler than in the Czech Republic, but that is absolutely normal because it was always the weak point of this film – that there are many events and many things discussed in the film that are really Czech. And that means a lot to us, but it is difficult for foreign audiences to understand. I could feel from one moment to another that there was a sort of – not boredom - but something like misunderstanding amongst this foreign audience. But of course at the end, and this is very typical, no one would ask ‘what’s going on? I don’t understand’, because there was a discussion with the director after the film.”

Photo: CTK
The most prestigious guest at the premiere last night was former German president Richard von Weizsacker. He said that such a film could not have been made in Germany. What did he mean by this?

“I think what he meant was that German politicians are on the one hand civilian people, but on the other hand you can really feel that this is all much, much, much more official than in the Czech Republic, where you can run into a politician every day on the street because it’s a small country. So, this intimate approach to a political figure is something very unusual, I must say, everywhere. In the press, the film has also been compared to another documentary which is actually in the Berlinale about Ariel Sharon. That I haven’t seen, but it seems that it is a really good film, and also that Ariel Sharon is presented a bit like a stone monument in that film. So this is the big difference. But it’s a very Czech quality, isn’t it? This sense for intimacy and this sense of humour, these sorts of qualities.”